Artists incarcerated at San Quentin used their talent to raise money for cancer research at Cords Gallery during a First Friday art walk in Oakland.
“I’ve been so inspired by the work of men inside who want to give back to their community and give back in creative ways, to not just support each other inside but to make an impact on the lives of folks in the greater community outside,” said Samantha Feld, a member of the San Quentin Compassionate Accountability Responsibly Expressed through Service (SQ CARES) committee that organized the event.
On May 4, artwork made by men at San Quentin lined a wall at Cords Gallery. Prices ranged from $40 to $150 to raise money for the Women’s Cancer Resource Center (WCRC).
WCRC provides financial support and therapy for women fighting cancer and for their families..
“Your generosity directly impacts our success in meeting our clients’ needs,” said Christine Sinnott, development manager of the WCRC.
SQ CARES raised almost $1,200 last year.
“Every gift we receive helps ease the burden for those living with cancer in real and concrete ways,” Sinnott said. “We are proud to partner with you in the service of our mission, and we look forward to your continued support.”
San Quentin CARES fundraising efforts include a two-day Cancer Walk on the prison yard.
The SQ CARES committee consists of incarcerated men like Stephen Pascascio, Juan “Carlos” Meza, Alexei “Peru” Ruiz, Ronell “Rauch” Draper, Edmond Richardson, “Khalifah” Christopher Christensen and others.
Because Christensen works as a clerk in the Arts in Corrections program, he took charge of recruiting artists and getting artwork cleared and to the gallery on time. Chris Bailey and Shannon Gordhamer handled the details on the outside.
At least 17 people donated 31 pieces of art, Christensen said.
The event raised approximately $700 and helped bring awareness to the cause, using art as an icebreaker.
“It makes me feel proud of what I’m doing,” Pascascio said. “It gives me a desire to keep on working hard.”
Christensen, who clears $21 a month from his prison job after restitution, donated a Star Wars inspired painting called, “Ish’ta Meets Her Mother.” The price it fetched allowed him to contribute beyond what he could make working in prison.
“It means everything to me to be able give back,” Christensen said. “The life that I lived out there, I took and took and took. This is my only opportunity to give back because I might never get out and just sitting in prison doing time doesn’t repay anything.”
Feld, Pascascio and Christensen all cite personal reasons for wanting to help fight cancer.
“I think what is so special about this project and the artwork is that it breaks through boundaries and barriers and really demonstrates how breast cancer affects everyone, regardless whether you are incarcerated or your race or age or whether you’re inside or outside,” said Feld. “So many of us have been affected by this disease.
“I lost my mother and grandmother to breast cancer and I came inside and realized many face the same loss and experienced the same thing. And I have been very inspired by the commitment and creativity.”
Pascascio has family members affected by cancer including his mother, sisters, and an aunt.
“They motivated me to do it,” Pascascio said.
Christensen said he saw how the fear of getting cancer affected his stepbrother’s wife. After her mom and sister died of breast cancer, she had a double mastectomy at 27 years old as a safety precaution.
SQ CARES sponsor Kim Bailey attended the art sale with her daughter Rachael. Formerly incarcerated SQ CARES members Clinton Martin and Phil Melendez also attended.
“It’s nice to see people who went home still supporting our cause from out there,” Christensen said.
-UC Berkeley graduate student Arielle Swedback contributed to this story.